Texas ‘Harbor’ Law Once Again Makes it Illegal to Offer Shelter to Undocumented Immigrants

Read more

As the federal government becomes increasingly hostile to undocumented immigrants, Texas has moved forward with a bill that will affect immigrant communities. On Thursday, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted that renting to an undocumented immigrant is not considered harboring them under House Bill 11, according to NBC News. House Bill 11 – introduced in 2015 – made it illegal to hide undocumented immigrants from the government. It came to a halt after a federal judge issued an injunction due to a pending lawsuit from landlords David Cruz and Valentin Reyes. The two men argued in the suit that the law was so wide in scope that even renting homes to undocumented immigrants could be construed as ‘harboring,’ which can result in a 10-year prison sentence.

This week’s ruling threw out the suit, and the injunction along with it, meaning that House Bill 11 can be enforced. The appeals panel found that Cruz and Valentin had no standing because they faced no real threat of prosecution. “There is no reasonable interpretation by which merely renting housing or providing social services to an illegal alien constitutes ‘harboring … that person from detection,’” US Circuit Judge Jerry Smith wrote.

For Nina Perales – the vice president the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s litigation team, which defended Cruz and Reyes – the ruling has a silver lining: it narrows the law’s definition of harboring and gives landlords, shelters, and others who provides service to undocumented immigrants understanding that they shouldn’t face criminal charges. “The Fifth Circuit provided us with a narrow definition of harboring that will prevent Texas law enforcement officers from arresting humanitarian workers and landlords for simply providing shelter and conducting business with undocumented immigrants.”

Though both sides see the ruling as a victory, this isn’t the case for undocumented immigrants and their allies because House Bill 11 is no longer on hold. House Bill 11 harshly punishes anyone for protecting undocumented immigrants – who have committed a civil infraction, not a criminal offense.

As President Donald Trump’s administration cracks down on undocumented immigrants, this vulnerable community is looking for ways to stay safe, to stay with their families. In Los Angeles, for example, religious leaders have built a network of shelters for undocumented immigrants. In a 2011 memo, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency stated that detention of immigrants wouldn’t occur in sensitive locations, such as hospitals, churches, and schools. Religious leaders know that Trump could end this policy, so they want to offer hundreds of undocumented immigrants shelter beyond school and church. Adding in these private residences would make it harder for ICE to find members of the undocumented community, according to CNN.

“There’s a difference between someone knocking on your door at the church who’s a federal agent and someone knocking on the door of your home, where, if they don’t have a warrant, they shouldn’t be entering,” said Reverend Zach Hoover, executive director of LA Voice.

Read more about the network of safe houses that Los Angeles’ religious figures are forming here.

February 26, 2017 at 1 p.m.: This post has been updated to clarify the court’s decision.